The movie started off with an amazing outdoors battle in a big metropolis (Tokyo, I think) involving a giant mechanical wheel and the introduction of our main characters. Although obviously looking computer-generated in parts, it was very cool and exciting, bringing to mind the best American superhero blockbusters. The heroes moved with astounding agility and speed yet remained trackable and fun to watch. This impressed me. The costumes weren’t faithful to the cartoon, but I thought they looked mighty fine for the modern age, especially the helmets. In that regard, the costumes of the main villains didn’t fare as well looking somewhat ridiculous, especially the helmet of the main antagonist. But perhaps it was that way in the anime, so let’s not be too severe. Unfortunately, that outstanding first battle was the highlight of the film.
In the middle part of the film came a lot of exposition and story background mostly showing our heroes in civilian attire. It wasn’t uninteresting and I did like most of it. I was hoping for the return of costumed action though. There were some nice twists and even effective dramatic moments, but not all of them (some played out corny or too predictable). Of particular note, a confrontation between 2 of our heroes regarding the fate of a bad guy was quite intense with a surprising end. At that moment, I thought, Wow, this movie is turning out great, it’s unexpectedly dark and mature. But I was wrong. One reveal involving a villain might have been predictable, but I didn’t expect it to play out that way, so kudos there. Speaking of villains, disregarding the 2 totally-undeveloped costumed underlings, one of the main bad guys was appropriately sly and menacing (the one in civilian clothes), but I was disappointed with the other sporting the ridiculous blue helmet with the “fox” ears. There was something lacking in the performance that didn’t help the drama. Some scenes that should have been heart-wrenching seemed a bit forced and fake. Some bad dialogue (was it the translation?) didn’t help the drama, even provoking some inappropriate laughter in the audience. This jaded viewer did fear for the lives of our heroes a few times, so any movie that manages to do that deserves a few extra points in my book.
The climax of the film isn’t any better either whilst we do see a return to action the fights are in to close corridors making it hard to make out whats going on and one ridiculously stupid over dramatic death scene that is almost laughable had it not been for the fact that by this stage I was pretty much bored out of my mind. Comparable to say Pacific Rim which knew what it was, it knew it was a silly setup which compensated with awesome fight scenes. But in Gatchaman, while the setup was strong what was holding it together was silly, yet they tried to make a silly plot serious and sadly it just doesn’t work. Not helped are some of the Japanese actors bad attempts at speaking English, And while I can forgive some actors who have to learn what to say on a whim some of the spoken English dialog from one character doesn’t even match the subtitles for whats being said on screen.
In the end, Gatchaman could have been a great film to introduce Western Audience to Japanese Super Hero films. Overall this seemed like a worthy effort to modernize anime icons and bring them to live-action, trying to approach the American superhero movies in terms of action and sophistication, but in the end it kinda felt short. If you have any interest in the subject matter though, it’s worth watching, I think, unless you’re a true purist. In which case, you would probably feel offended by the liberties taken.